A group of Canadian long-haul truck drivers who travelled cross-country from British Columbia as part of a “Freedom Convoy” to protest the imposition of Covid-19 vaccine requirements upon their industry have been arriving in Ottawa, where thousands have gathered to protest.
Until Saturday 15 January 2022, Canada’s lorry drivers were granted a federal exemption from vaccine requirements to enable them to cross the border into the US and back without having to show proof of inoculation against the coronavirus.
Now that privilege has expired, unvaccinated drivers returning from the US face having to quarantine for 14 days, although this requirement would only apply to a minority of around 16,000 drivers given that 85 per cent of their colleagues have had their jabs, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
But those who will be impacted by the new rules are incensed, and duly banded together to embark from Prince Rupert in the far west of British Columbia on Sunday 23 January to make the epic 2,443-mile journey to Parliament Hill in the nation’s capital.
Cars and trucks with banners line many of the streets in downtown Ottawa, where authorities have shut down all traffic besides first responders.
Ubiquitous honking has rung out through the capital as a sign of the movement. The protests have stretched on for weeks, though the Canadian government has taken steps to disperse the demonstrators.
As the demonstrations were getting underway last month, Benjamin Dichter, the Freedom Convoy’s spokesman, told The Toronto Sun that the line of trucks is 43 miles long, adding: “I have seen footage from an aeroplane. It’s impressive.”
That figure has been branded an exaggeration but the newspaper suggests the convoy is composed of as many as 50,000 trucks, although that too has been disputed.
“There’s thousands of cars and SUVs here but you’d be hard pressed to find 100 trucks,” commented Adrian Ghobrial, a reporter for Toronto’s City News, as he watched people turn out with banners in late January in Vaughan, Ontario, to watch it pass and express their support.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has dismissed the convoy protest, declaring: “The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing do not represent the views of Canadians who have been there for each other, who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values, as a country.”
On 14 February, Mr Trudeau took the rare step to invoke the Emergencies Act, which would allow the government more latitude to disband the demonstrations and free up key border crossings.
He also rejected concerns that the loss of the vaccine exemption would mean food shortages and disruption to the supply chain as goods go undelivered while drivers spend two weeks in quarantine.
“The best way to prevent further disruptions to our supply chains is by making sure that people don’t fall sick, by making sure that people are vaccinated,” Mr Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister and his family had moved from their residence in Ottawa to an undisclosed location amid security concerns.
His transport minister, Omar Alghabra, has meanwhile said that, since the mandate came into effect, there has been no large-scale reduction in the number of hauliers crossing the border.
Local police chief Peter Sloly said that officers he had been in contact with the event’s leaders, whom he said had been co-operative and shared their plans.
But his deputy, Steve Bell, has voiced concern about the possible presence of “parallel groups” (by which he appeared to mean “far-right”) attempting to hijack the protest.
“This is war!” one supporter of the movement screamed from the vehicle of his window in Vaughan, according to Mr Ghobrial.
A viral video circulating online reportedly featured a man expressing the hope that the rally would turn into Canada’s equivalent of the US Capitol riot, which saw supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump storm the legislative complex in Washington, DC, on 6 January 2021 in opposition to his election defeat, a standoff in which five people died.
Mr Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, has already made an unhelpful intervention in this demonstration, applauding the truckers on Twitter for standing up to “tyranny”, as has Tesla and SpaceX tech impresario Elon Musk, who tweeted simply: “Canadian truckers rule”.
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